When you build for youngest, you build for everyone


A young boy on his bike waits for the red light to change on Logan Boulevard in Logan Square.

I’ve been participating in a design collaboration this summer called Moving Design: Call To Action. This year’s “Call To Action” is about bicycle safety in Chicago, focusing on Logan Square. The group comprises over 40 designers, and two urban planners, including myself.

My role has been to provide “policy insights” – read and see them on the Moving Design blog. Since I’ve been in Utah for last Wednesday’s and tonight’s meetings, I created videos. Think of them as a satellite feed of an actor giving their Oscar acceptance speech from the set of the movie they’re filming.

This video policy insight is about 8 to 80. I connect the concept of “designing biking facilities for all” to ways cyclists have been divided and then bring it around to a discussion last week between Adolfo Hernandez of Active Transportation Alliance and Rob Forbes, CEO of Public Bikes.

Watch the video after the jump. 

Continue reading When you build for youngest, you build for everyone

Talking transportation with 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett Jr.


Alderman Burnett with John

[This piece also runs on the website Gapers Block.]

This is the first of a series of interviews I hope to conduct with all fifty Chicago aldermen about walking, biking and transit issues in their wards. As “mini mayors,” these City Council representatives have a huge influence on the kinds of projects that are built in their districts.

For example, a handful of aldermen have opted to use menu money discretionary funds to stripe additional bicycle lanes in their wards or to bankroll innovative transportation projects, like the Albany Home Zone traffic-calmed block in Logan Square. On the other hand, they can stand in the way of progress, like when former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone vetoed a bike bridge on the North Shore Channel Trail in West Rogers Park. Continue reading Talking transportation with 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett Jr.

Quad bike: How the Community Voicebox travels in Chicago


Two participants take the community Voicebox quadricycle for a test drive in the park.

Community Voicebox is the winning project of Bill Vassilakis and Jeff Munie from The Air We Breathe competition. It’s about listening to and recording the stories and thoughts of residents when it comes to two major and visible sources of pollution in the Lower West Side neighborhoods of Bridgeport, Little Village, and Pilsen: the Fisk and Crawford coal-burning power plants.

When it comes to documenting residents’ responses to the environmental hazards surrounding them, the Community Voicebox keeps it simple: a quadricycle and an iPad. Read more about the concept and my interview with Bill on Steven Can Plan – today on Grid Chicago I’ll be exploring how Bill and Jeff get the Community Voicebox around town.

Continue reading Quad bike: How the Community Voicebox travels in Chicago

Going Dutch: a conversation with LGRAB’s Dottie Brackett


[This piece also runs in Newcity. All photos courtesy of LGRAB, except where noted.]

Dottie Brackett is the Martha Stewart of the Chicago bike scene. Often spotted cruising the streets on her stately black Dutch bike or sprightly robin’s egg blue Rivendell, elegantly dressed in a skirt and heels, she belies the notion that urban cycling is only for sweaty guys in Lycra or skinny jeans. Since early 2009 her blog Let’s Go Ride a Bike (LGRAB) has shown thousands of people in Chicago and beyond how easy it is to use a bicycle for transportation and look good doing it.

The blog, co-written with Brackett’s Nashville-based friend Trisha Ping, who handles web design and ad sales, follows the women’s everyday adventures on two wheels. LGRAB’s breezy prose, splashy photography, reviews of classy commuter bikes and handy how-to tips have attracted an international readership, drawing about 2,500 pageviews and dozens of comments per day.

Continue reading Going Dutch: a conversation with LGRAB’s Dottie Brackett

Meet Brandon, owner and operator of Chicago Cargo


Brandon on Milwaukee Avenue across from Café Mustache, where we met last week.

I briefly introduced Brandon Gobel, a Chicago courier, in Monday’s article about Zipments and how it will change the bike and small-scale messenger industry. I promised we’d talk more about him and his business, Chicago Cargo, today.

Continue reading Meet Brandon, owner and operator of Chicago Cargo

Transcript from high-speed rail portion of Vocalo interview

Listen to the high-speed rail segment (MP3) of mine and John’s radio interview with Vocalo, recorded Monday, July 11, 2011. Listen to the full interview. Interviewers are Molly Adams and Brian Babylon.

Molly: With what you know about urban planning, and changes happening, how realistic is a possible high-speed rail, in the region. Maybe, we’ve heard talk of a St. Louis to Chicago, Chicago – Minneapolis, Chicago – Madison, what’s the future on that?

Steven: The Midwest has been planning HSR for decades. It is finally starting to happen. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), with the railroads that own tracks from Chicago to St. Louis, have been working to replace the tracks to allow for trains to operate at 110 MPH. Before, the top speed was like 75-90 MPH, but we don’t yet have trains capable of going 110 MPH. And the plan is for IDOT to purchase trains that can go that fast. So St. Louis would be the first segment. That’s the only one that really has funding right now. There is funding to upgrade tracks between Chicago and Milwaukee, on the Hiawatha Line, also to increase speeds to 110 MPH.

Brian: What will that do? Tell me the benefits – what will that do? In your two cents.

Steven: The first thing it will do is lower the travel time between the two cities. Then, that has an affect of more customers who didn’t ride the train before, because now they see the attractiveness of a slightly faster ride. Because maybe 5 hours was too long for them to St. Louis, but 4.5 hours makes a little more sense and once we have two tracks to go between Chicago and St. Louis, so trains can bypass each other, they can increase the speed even more, and go down to 4 hours.

Brian: Hmm.

Molly: That sounds like something I’d sign up for. I don’t have a car and I’ve never had a car, so all alternative transportation stuff is very interesting to me but I think when you have a car and you rely on your car for transportation it’s very easy to check out of this. Brian, can you speak to that?

Brian: Yeah, I only like to drive. This whole bike thing to the picnic was cute but I only like to drive.

Molly: Let’s say if it was easier for you to get into town on a train?

Brian: Yeah, but to get where I need to go. Once I get to town, that’s the problem.

Steven: Where’re you coming from?

Molly: Yeah, you guys should make an alternative transportation plan for Brian.

Brian: From the south side. If I can get a bike on the train, comfortably

Molly: He’s right by the 47th Street Green Line stop.

Brian: It’s really bad for me. I’m working on it.

John: You drive downtown to Navy Pier?

Brian: Every day!

Molly: Pay for parking?

Brian: Every day! I could save hundreds.

John: How much does parking cost for employees here?

Brian: Too much. $8. That’s about 40 bucks a week. Gas…He’s laughing!

Molly: Steve’s like shocked and appalled.

Steven: No, $8 is very cheap. I can understand that you would want to drive every day. Because parking pricing policy is one way to discourage driving. And parking seems plentiful here at Navy Pier.

Brian: If it was $20 I would be biking. I would have the nicest legs. In Chicago.